Portsmouth out to end horror run
Portsmouth, led by under-pressure manager Paul Hart, will be determined to end their shocking start to the season when Everton visit Fratton Park on Saturday.
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Under Hart, Pompey have lost their opening six games of the Premier League in the worst start to a top-flight campaign since Leicester City in 1983. The Foxes stayed up that year but the signs look ominous for Portsmouth, even in the wake of a 3-1 Carling Cup victory over Carlisle United in midweek.
Everton also started the season in deeply unconvincing fashion when losing three of their first four league games, but David Moyes has turned things around emphatically. The Toffees have won four in a row in all competitions, scoring 11 goals without reply in the last three games alone - a 4-0 Europa League win over AEK Athens, a 3-0 victory against Blackburn in the league and Wednesday night's 4-0 destruction of Hull at the KC Stadium.
Moyes is likely to deploy his side in a tried and tested 4-5-1 formation with Tim Cahill supporting in-form striker Louis Saha, even if Yakubu did score his first goal since November 2008 in the Hull victory. Much hinges on the club's most creative player, Steven Pienaar, while a much-changed defence will begin to take on a more settled complexion if Johnny Heitinga, Joseph Yobo, Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines start for the second game in succession.
In desperate need of three points, all eyes will be on Hart's tactical line-up. Will he opt for a 4-4-2, fielding Frederic Piquionne alongside either Danny Webber or Aruna Dindane, both of whom scored in the victory over Carlisle? His other option is to match Everton with a 4-5-1 formation - a safety-first approach.
In August, Hart spoke of his admiration for Moyes and his success at Everton, stating: "If you look at Everton over the past few years, it has taken them a while. But on a limited budget they've brought in a group of players that are hard-working and organised - and they have threatened." Whether Hart, who has operated under even more formidable financial constraints, is afforded the time needed to ensure a similar legacy is doubtful indeed.
Saha, with six goals in six games this season, is enjoying the most prolific spell of his career since December 2005 when he embarked on a run of nine goals in 12 games for previous club Manchester United. It may be premature to say that the Frenchman has put his extensive injury problems behind him but his return to form has been one of the more heart-warming, and overlooked, stories of the campaign so far.
In fellow Frenchman Kaboul he faces a rare constant in a Portsmouth squad that has been in flux for almost 12 months. Kaboul has started all eight of the club's games this season and although he is the top scorer at present with two goals, the defender's first priority will be to subdue Saha, as well as picking up the ever-dangerous and aerially-prolific Tim Cahill at set pieces.
Pompey have conceded 12 goals in six games this season, a tally that only Hull City have surpassed, and with Tal Ben Haim and Nadir Belhadj looking unconvincing, the burden of responsibility for stemming the flow of goals conceded could fall on Kaboul's broad shoulders.
Vanden Borre was one of Portsmouth's numerous summer signings when arriving on loan from Italian side Genoa and the Belgian is yet to fully impress at right back under Hart. However, he scored his first goal in six starts in the Carling Cup victory over Carlisle United and his confidence should be rising.
But in Pienaar, he faces one of the Premier League's outstanding players of the past six months. Following an injury to Mikel Arteta in February, the little South African has become the main creative force in Moyes' side with his impressive dribbling ability, range of passing and vision. Summer signing Diniyar Bilyaletdinov provides strong competition, but Pienaar remains top dog at left midfield and was afforded a rest in the Carling Cup win over Portsmouth. He could give Vanden Borre a torrid afternoon.
The self-styled 'Ghetto Kid' versus the 'Afro Man'; the midfield battle between Boateng and Fellaini should certainly capture the imagination of the watching public on Saturday. Boateng was another summer acquisition for Pompey after a terrible time at Tottenham and the German youth international has a real point to prove to his numerous detractors. He has started the club's past two Premier League games and offers power to the Pompey midfield.
Looming over Boateng in a central role, and boasting the most distinctive hair in the top flight, will be Fellaini who has been a real success for Everton since joining the club from Standard Liege last summer. The 6' 4'' Belgian scored nine goals last season but is without a strike to his name in the new campaign, meaning he will be determined to make an impact at set-pieces.